Reform plans for the Internal Revenue Service range from tax simplification to eliminating partisan actions by the agency against conservative political groups.
So far, though, proposals to make the tax code so simple you can fill out your tax return on a post card have come to naught. And IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has managed to escape his Republican critics in the House with merely a recent party-line censure by the Oversight Committee.
Nevertheless, efforts to resume legal action against the IRS on charges that the agency harassed conservative advocacy groups are still alive following sympathetic hearings from federal judges.
And 1st District Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., has joined a creative new front against Mr. Koskinen — with a budget amendment to eliminate his salary.
The court cases had been declared dead because the IRS claimed new rules would prevent a recurrence of its systematic obstruction of conservative advocacy groups applying for tax-exempt status during the 2012 election cycle. This “viewpoint-based discrimination” was exposed and denounced by the Inspector General for Tax Administration in 2013.
But five weeks ago, a federal district court in Texas ruled in one challenge that a trial could proceed, rejecting the IRS contention that the issue was no longer relevant.
And while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit hasn’t ruled on a similar case, comments from one the court’s judges should encourage plaintiffs.
At an April 14 hearing, Appeals Court Judge David Sentelle expressed skepticism about the IRS assurance that it has stopped discriminating against conservative groups. He said: “The Court would have to be awfully ignorant not to recognize that there has likely been an egregious violation of the First Amendment rights of American citizens by the IRS, and the IRS to this day seems very resistant to acknowledgment of that.”
Judge Sentelle added that the IRS would have more credibility if it had shown more “contrition” for stepping on constitutionally protected speech rights, and noted similar cases in which the IRS had failed to take steps to redress legitimate complaints.
“It’s just hard to find the IRS to be an agency we can trust, isn’t it?” he asked.
If federal judges believe the IRS is trying to evade accountability, that feeling is many times amplified in the Republican-controlled House, which has launched rare impeachment hearings against Commissioner John Koskinen for allegedly obstructing its investigation of the agency’s partisan targeting.
The lingering question: Who dragged the IRS into the political arena in the first place?
Mr. Koskinen and the Obama administration have yet to clearly answer.
Rep. Sanford showed where he stands by inserting a proviso in a budget bill to zero out Mr. Koskinen’s salary. Since agency heads are not allowed to work without pay, that would make the IRS boss ineligible to continue in his job.
Too bad that protest has about as much chance of advancing as the postcard size 1040 form idea. Still, that long-shot attempt to oust the IRS commissioner does recognize the need to restore the tainted reputation of the nation’s tax collector.
And trust is particularly important for the 54 percent of U.S. households that, according to the Tax Policy Center, actually pay federal income taxes.